Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Tough Choice Between a Palestinian State or Fucking Over Jews

The Jerusalem Post (via Jewlicious) reports on why the last peace proposal (by Ehud Olmert) failed (they're going off this interview with Saeb Erekat):
Erekat acknowledged that Israel had presented the Palestinians with a proposal in November 2008 which "talked about Jerusalem and almost 100% of the West Bank," and he noted that Mahmoud Abbas could have accepted this proposal, just as the "Palestinian negotiators could have given in in 1994, 1998, or 2000." Intriguingly, Erekat then proceeded to reveal what he considered a "secret": he explained why the Palestinians had rejected the recent proposals just like the ones offered in 2000/01 during the negotiations in Camp David and Taba. What prevented an agreement every time - at least according to Erekat - was the Israeli request that the Palestinians acknowledge the central importance of the Temple Mount for Jewish history and religion.

It is worthwhile to quote Erekat's description of a scene at Camp David, when Bill Clinton tried to convince Yassir Arafat to come to an agreement: "You will be the first president of a Palestinian state, within the 1967 borders - give or take, considering the land swap - and East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, but we want you, as a religious man, to acknowledge that the Temple of Solomon is located underneath the Haram Al-Sharif." According to Erekat, Arafat responded "defiantly" to Clinton: "I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram Al-Sharif except for Allah."

It may be debatable if Erekat is really revealing a "secret" here, but it is certainly surprising that the long-time Palestinian chief negotiator chose to emphasize an entirely symbolic issue and to present the repeated Palestinian refusal to compromise on this issue as a demonstration of proud defiance that is ultimately more important than the achievement of a peace agreement that would allow for the creation of a Palestinian state.

If this is indeed the message the Palestinians wanted to convey, they apparently succeeded if the recollections of former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami are anything to go by. Describing talks held in November and December of 2000 on the division of Jerusalem in an interview with Haaretz in September 2001, Ben-Ami explained that the Israeli negotiators had agreed to the division of the city and to full Palestinian sovereignty on the Temple Mount, but asked that the Palestinians acknowledge that the site was sacred to the Jews. When the Palestinians refused categorically, the ultra-dovish Ben-Ami concluded: "At that moment I grasped they are really not Sadat ... they were not willing to move toward our position even at the emotional and symbolic level. At the deepest level, they are not ready to recognize that we have any kind of title here."

Now let's be clear: Jerusalem is massive sticking point in Israel -- I've had putatively pro-two-staters tell me they will personally take up arms to prevent its division (they're always notably evasive when I ask if that means they're willing to attack Israel if Israel agrees to such a division. But the point is to reveal the depth of the sentiment). It is a big deal that Israel put it on the table to the degree that it did -- I'd consider it perfectly just if Israel demanded dual sovereignty. And accepting a right of return in any form beyond compensation is a redline I thought Israel would never cross -- frankly, I'm on the record as saying that Israel should pay compensation to Palestinian refugees but tie the issue to getting compensation for the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who fled Arab states and everyone forgets about. But that's because I'm a silly little man who -- in spite of every page of global history -- thinks that Jewish claims matter.

Erekat's statement is simply horrifying if true -- for it is a flat acknowledgment that the deepest Palestinian redline isn't settlements, isn't Jerusalem, isn't statehood, isn't even the right of return, but is the idea of affirming Jews as equals. But there seems to be quite a bit of corroboration. The adamant refusal to recognize Jewish historical connection to Israel and Jerusalem has a long history amongst the Palestinian political leadership. Jackson Diehl says Abbas verified that he rejected the plan, but doesn't say why. Diehl notes, incidentally, that Abbas' strategy at the moment is to simply wait Israel out -- he doesn't want a deal now because a deal might mean negotiating, and making concessions of his own. Like, say, agreeing that Jerusalem is a holy city to Jews too. Well I'm sorry, but that's not a good enough reason to keep your people in an occupied state. It's tough to feel sympathy when you reject a deal now simply because it requires you to treat your partner with dignity and respect. And it lends credence to Jewlicious' argument, which I've long been sympathetic to, urging Israel to simply unilaterally withdraw and make the issue moot.

Rejection of this plan would be bad enough even if it were over a wholly symbolic issue -- it would verify every pro-Israel hawk's intuition that Palestinian authorities care more about standing in an incorrigibly hostile stance to Jews than they do about the political goal of achieving Palestinian independence. But it isn't purely symbolic -- serious substantive rights are implicated here. While at some level acknowledge of Jewish religious and historical connection to the Western Wall is a recognition claim, Israelis and Jews still remember that they were forbidden to pray at the Wall when it was under Jordanian occupation. The refusal to acknowledge a Jewish connection to the site paves the way for a similar denial of religious freedom in the future -- particularly if the land itself is under Palestinian sovereignty (and even more particularly if the sovereign is Hamas). Frankly, if "moderate" Palestinian leaders are so invested in an absolutist stance against Jewish history and religious practice that they'll sacrifice their own state on the principle, there is little reason to believe that they'll be particularly inclined to respect religious liberty and freedom over the Temple Mount site once they gain possession over it.

I believe in putting pressure on Israel to get rid of the settlements and get them back to the negotiating table. Palestinian malfeasance is no justification for a response in kind, and the settlements particularly can't be justified under any plausible rationale. But there is plenty of truth to the point that Palestinians have refused to negotiate in good faith for a long time now -- and the primary area where they dig in their heels isn't in how they relate to Israel, but how they relate to Jews. There is a seemingly intractable opposition within the PA to any sort of acknowledgment of Jewish equality, history, dignity, or experience. And Israelis and Jews are right to think that without that element, no amount of land will bring peace.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Obama, Settlements, and Cairo

Barack Obama's surprisingly hardline stance against Israeli settlements has been cresting as he approaches his eagerly awaited Cairo speech to the Arab world. It is looking more and more likely that he will give a tough criticism of the settlements in the forum. And I hope he does. Because I assume that it will come paired with a forthright call for the Arab world to battle its own internal demons, particularly anti-Semitism. And that's a trade I'm more than glad to see made.

Barack Obama's best speeches share a common theme: hard calls for introspection. The Philadelphia race speech was a notable one. His Atlanta speech, which I called his best of the campaign season, was another. But for that move to work, it can't be a lecture -- it has to come from a position of empathy, respect, and understanding. Arabs (among others) are justifiably angry that the US has been an insufficient bulwark against the settlement enterprise. A firm Obama stance saying that they will no longer be tolerated will be big news. But in doing so, he will build upon his personal popularity and allow him the space to honestly and forthrightly demand that the Arab community look inward at the hatred many of its members have preached towards Jews (not Israelis, not Zionists, but Jews) for decades.

....And We Have a New "Winner"

G. Gordon Liddy takes the racism and sexism cake, both by referring to the Spanish language as "illegal alien", and by saying that women would make inferior justices because they menstruate.

Hats off to you, Mr. Liddy!

We Are All Sotomayor

Michelle Cottle nails it:
Not to state the obvious, but an upper-middle class white guy reared in the suburbs is shaped by his experiences, carries certain assumptions, and views the world through a particular prism as much as a working-glass Puerto Rican gal from the Bronx, or, for that matter, the half-black son of a single mom raised in Hawaii. The person belonging to the cultural/ethnic/religious/gender/racial demographic that has traditionally dominated a field (and thus whose perspective has long been the default) may not have given as much thought to his prism as a member of a non-dominant group. But that does not make his prism a neutral one. It simply allows him to more freely indulge his delusions of pure rationality and objectivity.

We all come from a perspective. There are no exceptions, and serious damage is done by those who deny it.

Introspection and intellectual growth doesn't mean trying to transcend perspective. It means striving for the sort of critical awareness that lets us grasp the effect of our social location, account for it, and do our best to twist around in our cement boots (to borrow from Stephen Feldman) and catch glimpses of alternate paths and states of being.

The Summa of All Fears

Fred Barnes and Bill Bennett talk about Sotomayor's academic credentials:
BARNES: I think you can make the case that she's one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

BENNETT: Summa Cum Laude, I don't think you get on affirmative action. I don't know what her major was, but Summa Cum Laude's a pretty big deal.

BARNES: I guess it is, but you know, there's some schools and maybe Princeton's not one of them, where if you don't get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you're a D+ student.

Ta-Nehisi Coates promises to stop being amazed soon. I'm just curious what Latin honors, if any, appear after their respective degrees.

Look, Carleton was one of those places where cum laude wasn't that hard to attain. It wasn't D+ work (3.25 average, so B/B+), but it wasn't difficult. Magna (what I got) required a 3.5 average, which still was quite doable for a hard worker. But Summa sat at a lofty 3.9 average, and it was quite an accomplishment -- I'd say that about 10 people in our class of over 450 reached it.

Chicago's equivalent honors (honors, high honors, and highest honors) are given at 179 (B+), 180.5 (A-), and 182 (A) respectively -- but thanks to a curve where the median is set at 177, any and all honors require serious chops. Only a bare handful achieve high honors, and highest honors, in fact, only pops up once every several years.

In sum, I'd be very surprised if at Princeton, or any other college in the country, Summa can be taken for granted. But if a Latina woman can get it, I guess it must come cheap.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Theorize This

A correspondent of Jeffrey Goldberg writes:
The rise of the right in Israel has been explained to death but the collapse of the left has not. And I think one of the key things is that commentators like Duss are extremely attuned to the psychological issues involving the Palestinians (the humiliations at checkpoints, loyalty oaths, Nakba Day bannings, the idea of honor and respect for the loss they suffered to be acknowledged) but ignore it among Israelis Jews (that there is always another Amalek out to destroy the Jews - if its not Hitler it's Nasser. If not Nasser than Arafat If not Arafat then its Nasrallah etc). The failure of the political left in Israel and its supportive commentariat throughout the world to acknowledge and deal with that psychology has been critical to its utter evisceration as an force in Israeli politics - and not for the good.

Agreed, and while affirming the importance of understanding the Palestinian perspective on the current state of affairs as they perceive it, I'd go further. The international left has consciously refused to engage with all but a tiny sliver of Israeli society (except when they're pathologizing them). For all intents and purposes they have not been interested in pursuing a politics of understanding, and at the moment many are consciously opposing constructive engagement with the Israeli community writ large. The Jewish Zionist community remains something of an opaque mystery to them, but, rather than try and understand it, the left throws up its hands, asserts the Zionists are irrational and implacable, and demands they be addressed through the only language that might have an impact: force.

The left is baffled by Zionists. Fine, I understand that -- Jews are an other, and I don't expect the Gentile community to get everything about us at first blush. But I do expect that they recognize that we are in an otherized position and approach us with a sense of openness that respects our sense of self and experience. That is a commitment that has historically been absent from the global political sphere (left and right -- but only the left is committed to it in the first place). It shouldn't surprise us that such a left is a moribund force in Israel -- its practices are ones calculated to alienate. But it is a move of spectacular arrogance (the sort that only seems to flow to those who deem themselves possessed of a universal truth to wield against the heathens) to pivot from that to assert that engagement has failed. In a sense it has, but it is due to the willful refusal on the part of the global left to adopt any other position other than teacher/master to Jewish servant/children. To borrow from George Yancy, they "admit[] of no ignorance vis-à-vis the [Jew]. Hence, there is no need for ... silence, a moment of quietude that encourages listening to the [Jew]."*

In its best moments, the left understands this. I'm reminded of one of my favorite passages, by Richard Bernstein, as a guide to what should be happening:
The basic condition for all understanding requires one to test and risk one's convictions and prejudgments in and through an encounter with what is radically "other" and alien. To do this requires imagination and hermeneutical sensitivity in order to understand the "other" in its strongest possible light. Only by seeking to learn from the "other," only by fully grasping its claims upon one can it be critically encountered. Critical engaged dialogue requires opening of oneself to the full power of what the "other" is saying. Such an opening does not entail agreement but rather the to-and-fro play of dialogue. Otherwise dialogue degenerates into a self-deceptive monologue where one never risks testing one's prejudgments.

Richard J. Bernstein, The New Constellation: The Ethical-Political Horizons of Modernity/Postmodernity (Boston: MIT Press, 1992), 4.

* George Yancy, "Introduction: Fragments of a Social Ontology of Whiteness," in What White Looks Like,George Yancy, ed. 2004 (New York: Routledge 2004), 12.

Cornyn Hits Back at Limbaugh

I have to say, of all the Republicans I thought might take on Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich for calling Sonia Sotomayor racist, Sen. "Big" John Cornyn (R-TX) ranked near the bottom of the list. But shows what I know:
"I think it's terrible," Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told NPR's "All Things Considered" Thursday. "This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent.”
"We are all a product of our upbringing and who we are and I think it’s a fact people do have different backgrounds, but I don't think those background ought to determine what the law is," Cornyn said to NPR of Sotomayor's Berkeley comments.

The NRSC chief also brushed off the Limbaugh and Gingrich statements while noting neither man holds an elected office.

"Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don't think it’s appropriate. I certainly don't endorse it. I think it’s wrong," he said.

We'll see if he walks it back after the inevitable right-wing outcry. But still -- well-said, Senator.

They Really Believe This Shit!

Steve Benen compares Republican stance on Estrada with Republican claims about Sotomayor. Picking out GOP hypocrisy is too easy, but it does verify the realization I had after the Palin selection that Republicans actually believe their own rhetoric about identity politics. The way they handled the Estrada campaign -- rampant accusations that Latinos were going to hate Democrats forever for bottling up his nomination, and that only racism could explain it -- made it clear that they really did think that the way most American Latinos understood racism was "opposing a Latino for any reason." And whether they viewed that outlook as savory or not, they tried to exploit it. It didn't seem to occur to them that Latinos are sophisticated political actors who can understand opposition to a presidential nominee of their own ethnicity (indeed, might share it!) based on substance, and thus would not find Democratic attacks on Estrada problematic insofar as they stemmed from the perfectly reasonable (for a Democrat) objection that he was too conservative.

In contrast to the ideology-focused campaign against Estrada, Matt Yglesias points out,
The argument about Sonia Sotomayor consists of the idea that we should discount her career and her degrees because those are just the results of the kind of “preferential treatment” that poor Puerto Rican girls from the projects get. We’ve also heard that she has a troubling fondness for Puerto Rican food. That it’s unreasonable that she pronounces her name as if it’s a Spanish word. We’ve heard that she’s a soft-hearted woman who wants to set aside the law in favor of empathetic victims, and also heard complaints that she’s failed to set aside the law in order to help out empathetic white people. These kind of criticisms are going to drive Hispanics away from the conservative cause not because conservatives are criticizing a Latina, but because they’re criticizing her in terms that imply a generalized skepticism about the qualifications of all American Hispanics, a loathing of Latin culture, and a monomaniacal obsession with defending the interests of white people.

Karl Rove took the tepid Latino backlash to the anti-Estrada campaign as a sign that its open season on Sotomayor. But that only makes sense if one adheres to the spectacularly unsophisticated view of racism that Republicans hold. Applied to Sotomayor, they are going to choke on those words.

Transfer Treason

Spotted in the Carleton alum magazine, The Voice:
Edwin Eck '69, Missoula, Mont., wrote, "At the suggestion of U.S. Senator Max Baucus '63, President Bush nominated me to a full 5-year term on the IRS Oversight Board. The Senate confrimed the nomination on October 2, 2008."

Max Baucus, Carleton alum? I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it turns out that Baucus did attend Carleton for one year before transferring to Stanford. Laaaame. No credit to traitors -- get out of my magazine!

(Congrats to Mr. Eck, though, who apparently graduated in good standing.)

McCarthy Laws

As Israeli Arab groups slam a set of laws working their way through the Knesset which would criminalize commemorating the Naqba and denying Israel's status as a Jewish state, it is good to see American Jewish organizations line up on the right side. J Street called on American Jews to unite against the bill's passage. Jeffrey Goldberg labels it "fascistic". And Abe Foxman of the ADL stridently condemned the bills as reminscent of McCarthyism:
“I have a lot of problems with the proposed language because by including a pledge to Zionism it smacks of discrimination,” said Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director. “It’s odious. Zionism is something you should aspire to, but it shouldn’t be something that you get punished for if you don’t.”
Foxman noted that the oath would also create problems for fervently Orthodox Jews who don’t recognize Israel’s Zionist character.

“Americans are not comfortable with loyalty oaths — this goes back to our experience with McCarthy,” he said. Foxman said a loyalty oath is acceptable if it’s inclusive.

Of course, under prevailing conventional wisdom, Foxman should turn around and label himself anti-Semitic by nightfall. Because Jews can't tolerate criticism of Israel without labeling it anti-Semitic, remember?

Finally, Gershom Gorenberg aptly notes that the first persons who could be prosecuted under a law denying Israel's Jewish, democratic character would be the architects of a bill which so fundamentally cuts out Israel's Jewish, democratic character.

I doubt these bills will survive judicial review (UPDATE: And now they don't have to! Good work, Israeli ministers, for stepping up doing your job), but, like with the prior attempt a barring several Israeli Arab parties for running in the past election, a truly democratic nation shouldn't have to keep depending on its judiciary to bail it out. These laws are insults to Judaism, democracy, and Zionism, and I hope that the Knesset comes to its senses and sends them to the rubbish bin where they belong.

Two More Sotomayor Quick Hits

Douglas Kmiec offers his endorsement, and Richard Stith notes that, given Judge Sotomayor's record on abortion cases, she's either not a judicial activist, or not pro-choice, but certainly not both.

Rolling Thunder

Much like Matt Yglesias, the kids at Tapped have been putting out a flurry of fabulous Sotomayor related posts. I can't even begin to collect the links, so just head over and read.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Backing Words With Action

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni now says he regrets earlier statements indicating his desire to burn any Israeli books which might be located in Egyptian libraries.
Hosni told Le Monde in remarks published on Wednesday that he regretted his comments and said they had given his opponents a chance to associate him with everything he finds deplorable - racism, nullification of others, as well as the defacement of different cultures.

"Nothing is more distant to me than racism, the negation of others or the desire to hurt Jewish culture or any other culture," he wrote.

Well, that's nice to hear. Still, I noted in my first post that Hosni has demonstrated a pattern of talking out of both sides of his mouth on this issue. How do we know this isn't just what needs to be said so that the man can get his cherished UNESCO appointment?

How about backing up words with action? Hosni said that he was implacably opposed to opening a Jewish -- not Israeli, but Jewish -- cultural museum in Egypt until the Israeli/Palestinian conflict comes to a close. Putting aside whether the presence of war and mistrust offers an argument to reduce our cultural exchanges, rather than expand them, it was particularly disheartening to see that Hosni apparently does not differentiate between Jews (including Egypt's still extant, though small, Jewish population), and Israelis. A good way for him to demonstrate that his latest act of contrition is a sincere one would be to come out forcefully for the establishment of the museum of Jewish culture in Cairo that he previously derided.

The Politics of Recognition, Part III

Ahmad Samih Khalidi argues in the Guardian against Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, for
behind what may appear an innocuous demand to accept Israel for what it deems itself to be lies an ideologically motivated attempt to force the Palestinians into an unprecedented repudiation of their history. Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state implies the acknowledgment that the lands they lost in 1948 are a Jewish birthright. This runs contrary to the heart of the Palestinians' historical narrative and their sense of identity and belonging.

It invalidates the history of the ­Palestinians' century-old struggle and in effect demands that they should become Zionists; for the essence of Zionism lies in the belief that these lands are (and always were) the homeland of the Jewish people, and that the history of Jewish dispossession was rightfully rectified by the emergence of Israel in 1948.

Norm Geras responds:
There are two things wrong with this. First, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state does not at all entail acknowledging some original Jewish birthright or repudiating a narrative according to which the Palestinians have suffered a historical injustice. It involves accepting only that, as things now stand, Israelis as well as Palestinians have a right to national self-determination within the relevant territory. Second, the problem is to find a political solution to competing national claims within that territory, and not to validate the Palestinian narrative. As in a previous outing at the same venue, Khalidi seems to be insensible of the fact that this problem is the result of there being competing narratives - Palestinian and Jewish - to be justly accommodated. No accommodation will be possible if each side insists on the unconstrained validity of its own narrative and on any political resolution having to respect it. Better to find the political resolution and let narrative fidelity, or adaptation, take its course.

I've written before of how narratives clash inside Israel and Palestine, and I think Geras is correct to indict Khalidi's assumption that recognizing Israel's Jewish character necessarily obliterates Palestinian claims of injustice and suffering. What it does do is affirm is that, as I put it previously, Israel's "existence is not a mistake, not an affront, not blasphemy, not colonial, not temporary, and not negotiable." All of these statements are perfectly harmonious with the affirmation that Palestinians have suffered greatly.

Geras accurately notes that Khalidi's fundamental reservation -- refusing to acknowledging any compelling normative considerations on the Jewish side (as opposed to contemporary political exigencies) -- has the effect of simply reserving the maximalist Palestinian claim for a later date. Khalidi's claim that Hamas recognizes the possibility of a long-term peace with Israel reveals more than he thinks: a descriptive acknowledgment that Israel is there is small comfort if not paired with a concurrent affirmation that Israel ought to be there (or at least, that the moral arguments in its favor aren't negligible). Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians have to be made to understand that their partners aren't just ranting about gibberish: that their respective experiences are real, that their histories of oppression, violence, and displacement are as they tell them, and that their stories will be greeted with respect and empathy rather than seen as the latest ball to be added to the political playing field. Finally, this is also why Israel's standing on this vis-a-vis the Palestinians is qualitatively different than it is with its other neighbors: as Khalidi certainly recognizes, the legitimacy of Israel's Jewish character -- that Israel came into being due to fundamental elements of the Jewish experience and oppression which deserve acknowledgment -- is implicated to a far greater degree in its conflict with the Palestinians than it is with any other group. Stripping the Jewishness out of Israel strips Israel of any normative rationale whatsoever -- it becomes just another facet of 20th century colonialism. But doing this does violence to Jewish history -- it writes us out of our own story and makes into tertiary characters with no agency, independent interests, or autonomy.

The accommodation comes by recognizing that Israel did not come into existence because of Jewish mal intent -- that it was a response to oppression inside and outside of Europe, that it was reasonable behavior, that for Jews it was perhaps the only plausible route for social survival, that it was not "all about" colonialism and racism and greed and plundering. This does not mean that Palestinians did not suffer -- the world is not a kind place; injustice rarely stays constrained inside the boundaries set for it. It means that Israelis and Palestinians must relate to each other's narratives on terms of empathy and respect. Political settlement is going to require co-existence between narratives as well as people.

Khalidi laments that the demand to recognize Israel's Jewish character means forcing Palestinians to become Zionist. I've often hoped for a day when all Jews would sign on as allies of Palestinian national aspirations, because the Palestinians see that as essential to their liberation as people. In spite of the fact that Jews (including myself) have long seen this movement as a threat, as fundamentally hostile to their lives and livelihoods, and as committed to the erasure of their own history and experience (as I believe Khalidi does), I do not believe it is intrinsically tied to any of these things. Though I will never sign on to statements or positions which buy into these frames, I do not view that commitment as being remotely in conflict with advocating for a Palestinian state. For Palestinian national liberation. Because ultimately, we are all our brother and sister's keeper, and our obligations to each other do not dissolve so easily even in the wake of our justified anger and mistrust.

Zionism is seen by Jews as our own national liberation movement -- what we need to be equal and dignified members of the human community. It doesn't depend on erasure of Palestinian suffering or history, or occupation, or discrimination -- though it may have manifested itself in these things before. Do I ask them to deny the suffering of occupation? No. Do I ask them to disavow that they have as much a claim on the land as do the Jews? No. Do I ask them to abandon advocating for equal rights for persons of all faiths and backgrounds inside and out of Israel and Palestine? No. But I don't view any of these commitments as being remotely in conflict with calling oneself a Zionist.

If the end of all this is a day in which Israelis can say "there is a vision of Palestinian liberation here, and I support their efforts to enact it," and Palestinians can say "there is a vision of Jewish liberation here, and I support their efforts to enact it", in other words, call themselves Zionist -- well, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, now would it? Indeed, I'd call that the end game.

Closer Than You Think

Under the headline Strange Bedfellows: Like Christian Right Groups, Anti-Semitic Imam Lies About Hate Crime Bill, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch blog notes that Imam Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a Muslim clergyman who has been lecturing before Muslim student groups throughout the UC system, makes similar claims lies about the proposed "hate crimes" bill as do prominent right-wing Christian groups.
“Y’all know Rahm Emanuel, the Zionist Jew?” Ali asked a crowd of roughly 70 during his May 14 speech at the University of California, Irvine. “He’s the chief of staff for President Obama. For our non-Muslim friends, when President Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, the Muslims knew just what was happening. As soon as he chose Rahm Emanuel, we said ‘Uh-oh, oh, Barack is owned. He’s owned by the Zionists.’”

Ali contends it’s Emanuel who’s pushing the hate crimes bill, which is chock full of perks for Jews. “Since it’s Rahm Emanuel, if this bill is passed — listen to me! — if this bill is passed, it will be a crime to criticize Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, it will be a crime to report the extraordinary influence of AIPAC [the pro-Israel lobby], it will be a crime to doubt any aspects of the Holocaust.”

In fact, Ali asserted that those who question that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust could go to prison under the proposed law. What’s more, “If you talk about the disproportionate numbers of Jews, Zionist Jews, in the media, in finance and foreign policy, that’s a crime. That’s a crime! So what you’re talking about, if this bill is passed, is that you can criticize any country in the world except the apartheid state of Israel. That’s under the Hate Prevention Act of 2009 [sic].”

The SPLC links this to (equally false) claims that by Christian groups the hate crimes law will criminalize "hate speech" against gay and lesbian persons. But the link is much closer than that -- far right Christian groups have been just as clear as Imam Ali that they, too, view the bill as a Jewish plot.

In any event, the law would not prohibit the speeches of either anti-Semitic or anti-gay zealots, as it targets not speech but actual crimes motivated by bias. The good Imam can still spout whatever he wants about the evils of global Jewry -- he just can't take the next step and physically assault us.

Yggy on Sotomayor

Matt Yglesias has been blogging up a storm on Judge Sotomayor today, with three great posts in succession. The most important point he makes, I think, is how the anti-Sotomayor campaign -- which thus far has focused nearly entirely on her being a Latina woman and thus racist/unqualified/unintelligent/hot-blooded is likely to spark a pretty intense rallying reflex around her by the Latino community which is going to come back and bite the GOP hard. After all, Yglesias notes he has barely any Hispanic identity (his paternal grandfather is Cuban, hence "Yglesias", but aside from that he's Ashkenazi Jewish), but the message he's been getting is that -- by virtue of his last name -- all his accomplishments and accolades will immediately be considered suspect if he attempts to take a high profile political position.

There is plenty of diversity in the Latino community. But one thing that brings people together is a shared history of oppression. There is a reason that Israel defines "Jew" not based off of religious criteria but the more morbid "who would the Nazis have killed?" Latinos from a broad swath of backgrounds and political beliefs can still see the writing on the wall when huge chunks of the (still mostly lily-White) Republican Party suddenly decide that Princeton, Yale, and nearly two decades of federal court experience makes one a big ol' dummy, so long as you're named Sotomayor and not Alito. If they don't think this will have an effect, they're dreaming.

UCU Moves

David Hirsch live-blogged the UCU Congress where they debated, among other things, a measure calling for a boycott of Israeli academics. It is a bit hard to follow (being quite stream of consciousness), particularly if you aren't up on the details of the controversy. One major issue was the possibility that the UCU's boycott call might be illegal under British law. There were some calls to amend the motion to reflect this, otherwise, the official UCU line was that the motion would be considered null upon passage. I can't quite gather from Hirsch's writing what exactly happened, but it is evident that the Conference passed some form of anti-Israel motion.

Some other "highlights":

A request to forward the boycott proposal to the broader UCU membership was widely mocked and rejected. Proponents of the boycott claimed that the argument from democracy was inappropriate given (a) that opponents of the boycott "are not willing to respect the views of the Palestinian people who voted for a democratic government," i.e., Hamas, and (b) this is not the sort of issue which should be resolved by a vote anyway ("We cannot rely on votes. Lets not make this a bureaucratic procedure.").

The supporters were pretty clear that their proposal stood in contrast to "constructive engagement", which they characterized as "the worst thing." Those of us who still cast our lots behind building bridges instead of burning them ought to take note.

Several other agenda items dealing with Sri Lanka and Columbia were added at the last minute, with condemnations of government violence (linked, typically, to Western imperialism). There were, however, no other boycott motions forwarded with regard to any of these countries.

The UCU resoundingly voted down a motion "not[ing] with concern the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK and resignations of UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional anti-Semitism" and resolving "To investigate the number of recent UCU resignations and the reasons for them, and to report its findings to next Congress." What a huge surprise.

Oh, I almost forgot: At a "fringe meeting" of BRICUP (the leading pro-boycott group in Britain), one UCU leader referred to legal threats stemming from lawyers backed by those with "bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down." This refers to a conspiracy theory that Jewish investors looted LB prior to its demise and redirected billions of dollars to Israel. But clearly, the above motion on anti-Semitism is totally unnecessary.

* * *

One of the academics speaking in favor of the boycott apparently said "We need to build on this anger". I can't end this post better than by reprinting one of the Engage commenters:

"We need to build on this anger"

Let us crank up the rage.
Let us not spend time to reflect.
Let us unleash the mob……….
Let us become "the people"……..
Let us pick up our torches…….
Let us go to where they live………
Let us make them feel our righteous anger…….
Why did everyone let us……?
I don't mean it to go that far. I only meant…….I only meant
My God, what have we done?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reprimand at York

Engage is reporting that York University has officially fined and reprimanded the ringleaders of the student mob which created a hostage scene in which Jewish students were forced to barricade themselves in the campus Hillel for their own safety. Jewlicious has more background.

I noted at the time that, while the putative dispute had nothing to do with Israel (instead focusing on the York Federation of Students support for an on-campus strike), the ringleaders nonetheless tried to argue that the Jewish membership of the anti-YFS contingent was solely motivated by a desire to oppose pro-Palestinian groups on campus -- one advocate bluntly stated that "The public positions put forward by this campaign cannot be taken at face value." This, of course, justified an angry mob chasing a largely Jewish group across campus with cries of "die, bitch, go back to Israel" and "die, Jew, get the hell off campus."

The assertion that any and all Jewish political agency is a facade for "Zionist" ends is hardly isolated. We've all heard how the (Jewish) neoconservatives' pressed to invade Iraq for the benefit of Israel (whether Israel actually benefited is, of course, left unclear). Most conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the media/banks/financial markets/entertainment industry assume that these are subject to Zionist manipulations. The very statement which spawned the Livingstone formulation was likewise over a controversy that had nothing to do with Israel, until Mayor Livingstone declared that "I don’t believe a word of it" -- it being the possibility that Jewish groups would oppose an anti-Semitic statement directed at a Jewish reporter for reasons independent of one's position on Israel. The idea that Jews might have additional reasons for being uncomfortable with the Chas Freeman nomination was treated as being an utter absurdity. "Anti-Zionist Zionist" Steve Cohen wryly noted that simply noting the existence of anti-Semitism on the left rendered nullities all his public statements opposing Zionism as "platitudes". I could go on, and on.

This assumption is utterly lethal to Jewish participation in the political sphere. When tied in this way to presumed Jewish deception and malfeasance, there is literally no way for Jews to assert political opinions without watching them be pre-emptively dismissed as "Zionist". Cohen demonstrates that even opposing Zionism doesn't immunize from this treatment, but conditioning Jewish political participation on them disavowing Zionist ideas (as we saw in Venezuela and South Africa) would be anti-Semitic in of itself (the mid-century National Review did not cease to be racist just because it found George Schuyler).

The ringleaders of the York riot are, predictably, crying about how they are being victimized for "stand[ing] up against racism." They show virtually no awareness of how deeply their actions re-entrenched it. A violent mob organized around the fundamentally anti-Semitic idea that Jewish activists don't have any beliefs but Zionism (and if they say otherwise, they're lying)? That's the core of racism, staring you in the face.

Round Two Picks

Fresh off the verification of my oracle status with the selection of Sotomayor two years after I made the call, I'm deciding to let it ride. Supreme Court appointment #2 will be granted to Solicitor General Elena Kagan.

Can I go two-for-two? We eagerly await the next chime on the SCOTUS death clock to find out!

California Splits the Baby

The California Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the Prop. 8 ban on gay marriage. However, it denied that it applied retroactively, and ruled that it did not disturb the prior state of California law that civil unions had to be equal to marriage in every respect (in accordance with a general "strict scrutiny" approach to sexual orientation discrimination).

Calvin Massey analyzes the decision and says that, in all practical effect, it is actually a win for the gay rights crowd. Even so, I say, put that sucker on the ballot every year if we have to: the symbolism matters, and California shouldn't fall behind Iowa on this.

That Activism Thing

Judge Sotomayor's most controversial case right now is the New Haven firefighter's case, where she upheld the city throwing out the results of a promotion test because they would have led to a promotional scheme inconsistent with the mandates of Title VII. The firefighters (mostly White) who lost out sued, alleging discrimination.

Reasonable people can disagree on this case (Ta-Nehisi Coates, I know, has been skeptical). But it is important, for those who wave "activist" like a talisman, to remember that this is a case of the judiciary deferring to democratically elected officials on matters of social policy. The closest thing "activism" has to a principled definition is "striking down democratically enacted laws" (and, ironically enough, it was the conservative wing of the Rehnquist court that made it the most activist Supreme Court in history). But the popular definition of "activist" is "judge who makes a ruling I dislike" (see also, Kelo), so I doubt this observation is going to deter much of anyone.

The Pick

It is 2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor. And let me just say I called it ... in 2007 (I also registered this opinion to someone on a summer 2007 train ride. I wonder if he remembers and is appropriately awed). Congratulations to Judge Sotomayor, whom I'm sure will make a fine totally bad-ass Justice.

Collective hugs from our Civil Procedure II class, Judge Wood!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Burn Burn

Ha'aretz reports that the Netanyahu government has dropped its objection to the appointment of Egypt's Culture Minister, Farouk Hosni, to a top position with UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). Netanyahu apparently cut a deal with Egypt, but the contents are secret and nobody knows what he got in return.

Hosni is controversial for telling an opposition Egyptian MP that he would "burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt." Lovely sentiments in general, particularly so for a culture minister looking to take a plum role with the UN's education and culture wing.

At some level, Hosni looks more like a run-of-the-mill flip-floppy politician than a particularly (emphasis) virulent anti-Israel ideologue. He walked back the book burning comment, and proceeded to say he supported translating Israeli books into Arabic. Then he switched tenors and stated his outright opposition to opening any cultural ties with Israel -- or even cultural acknowledgment of Jewish history in the nation -- while "there are bloody attacks every day against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza strip." Flip it back: He says that he would not be adverse to visiting Israel. And, the story ends, he is now under fire by the same opposition party which prompted the book burning comment, saying that even suggesting he visit the state "was humiliating to the Egyptian people."

Still, the letter released by several prominent intellectuals opposing Hosni's appointment has some damning quotes, including the claim that Israel was "aided" by "the infiltration of Jews into the international media." It seems pretty readily apparent that this is not the sort of person who should be put in charge of a college film festival, let alone a prominent international culture organization.

The Ha'aretz article, incidentally, says that Netanyahu is being blasted by Kadima for this deal, as up until recently derailing Hosni's appointment was a top foreign policy priority for the nation. Can I just note this is yet another reason to be annoyed at Bibi? Contrary to popular belief, Israel does not have at its command an inexhaustible supply of power and influence. It has limited political and international capital, same as everybody else. When Netanyahu expends it on protecting the right to expand settlements or petulantly refusing to utter the phrase "Palestinian state", he has to give up other things elsewhere. Unless the secret deal with Egypt is Hassan Nasrallah's head on a pike, I can't imagine its a net benefit for Israel. Fight the stupid fights, and you lose the ammo you need to fight the good ones.

The Empathy Skill

I don't think Orin Kerr quite gets what Obama means when he says he wants a judge with "empathy". Susan Bandes gives a good rundown of what "empathy" means in this context. The short version is that empathy is the ability to understand exactly how adopting a given legal rule or doctrine will effect litigants and those like them now and in the future.

Empathy isn't something a judge either has or doesn't have. It's a skill, and like most skills it runs on a continuum. The ability to place yourself in the shoes of another and try and imagine what their life will be like if you rule a certain way is difficult, and not everyone has that ability (to the requisite degree we want in a judge). Yet this skill often goes to the heart of the legal function. Far from being "lawless", trying to remove empathy from judging would, I believe, exile law from law.

It's Not Either/Or

From a CNN piece about a very generous gift giving underprivileged students a free ride to Brown:
Sidney Frank made millions marketing Jagermeister and other alcohol brands. Three years after his death, he's a big hit with students at the Ivy League college he briefly attended.

He's a big hit not because of what he sold, but because he's given dozens of them what he couldn't afford as a young man: an education at Rhode Island's Brown University.

Okay, let's be honest. He's probably a big hit because of both.

Observing Memorial Day

I have a friend who is currently posted overseas in Iraq. Having him there makes this Memorial Day more fraught for me than others have been. I pray that he does not become one of those who makes the ultimate sacrifice, but I honor him for risking his life for his beliefs and his country. To every soldier who made that choice, we salute you today and always.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cultural Divestment

Israeli officials ban a Palestinian literary festival on the grounds that it is a "political event". Even accepting that's true (and it's not like literature is or should be necessarily apolitical), what does it matter? Is or is not Israel a politically free country? Is or is not Israel a culturally free country? Because those qualities are ones I like to brag about, and it pisses me the *$%* off when I'm not allowed to do it anymore.
[T]hose in the diaspora who campaign long and hard against a boycott of Israeli culture should be raging with anger at this latest disgrace. Rafiq Husseini, the chief of staff to the Palestinian president, is right when he says, "They [the Israelis] are creating enemies for themselves."

Oh, I'm raging all right. Somebody has to smack the Netanyahu government upside the head and wake them up, because they seem intent on destroying their country.

Now They Talk

I had noted that the international community seemed to give Sri Lanka far more leeway in its civil war with the Tamil Tigers than they ever did to Israel, culminating in their final epic victory this month. I wasn't the only one who noticed.

But fair is fair: The UN has stepped up its rhetoric dramatically in recent days, with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saying that "I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes [sic] I have seen." Of course, by the time the condemnations reached anything approaching a meaningful level, the damage had been done.

In any event, I think the rhetorical comparative point has been made. It's time to focus our attention on Sri Lanka qua Sri Lanka -- that is, making sure that, however we got here, this end to the conflict is the end, and manifests itself in a just and enduring peace for all inhabitants of the country.